Where to now?

Australia: JRS launches new Residence Determination Project

One Australia’s immigration detention centres.

“This hope has now become almost extinguished by the harsh treatment that is the government’s policy for those arriving by boat and without visas.”  

The Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia, where JRS has undertaken pastoral work in collaboration with the tireless and generous Sisters of Mercy since 2010, has been shut down as a consequence of Federal budget cuts. Sr Jacqueline Ford, the first and last Mercy Sister to work at Curtin, reflects on the experience.

I have been to Curtin each year since 2010, and have seen many changes. The greatest difference I have noticed is that in these last two years the hope that was present in the hearts of most of the asylum seekers, that they would one day become citizens of Australia, has now been exterminated.

The detention centre at Curtin consisted of two compounds for detainees when I first visited and increased to seven compounds when the maximum number of men reached 1400. Each compound (the area being perhaps as big as two football fields) was enclosed, with six-to-eight-metre-high double wire fences electrified at the top and securely bolted with gates controlled electronically. There was only one compound where the detainees resided, and for me to reach it meant getting access through the bolted gates of unused compounds.

At first, I found this a little eerie as it was a like passing through a ghost town. But then I discovered an ideal place to have a reflection time. Here I enjoyed some mystical moments. This was an area where lovely native trees and bushes of the Kimberley region had thrived, and as I sat among them I began to recall so many former detainees who used to gather under the trees and share their hopes, dreams, fears and sufferings.

It helped me to realise that as time passes so do the times of injustice and evil. Many of the former asylum seekers are now with visas in the Australian Community.

Each one of the asylum seekers at Curtin had his own personal story as to why he chose to come on a very dangerous boat journey to Australia. This hope has now become almost extinguished by the harsh treatment that is the government’s policy for those arriving by boat and without visas. One detainee told me that he had already been in four different centres, and this latest move to another centre was a fifth. In all he has spent five years in detention and has just turned 30. He feels he has lost all that was dear to him: his family, his girlfriend and his study.

The second last day I visited the detention centre and was conversing with a special young man from Iran when suddenly the silence was rent with the most horrific screams I have ever heard. They were screams of rage, terror, anger, despair and extreme pain. I heard glass breaking as the man threw things at the window. This was to obtain glass to keep the security guards at a distance. Then suddenly it was quiet again. Someone told me the man had received a visa the day before, and it was cancelled the next day.

I feel that those despairing cries will remain with me for some time.

Jacqueline Ford RSM

Share Button